When I first got into the training and consulting business, I believed it was critical that I demonstrate an exceedingly high level of competence and a strong confidence in my ideas. If clients felt I was wrong, I would often argue with them and defend my position to prove that I was right and they were wrong. Then, one day, I had an epiphany.
I am not right.
The truth is that for many types of questions, there are often multiple right answers. My ideas are based purely on my opinion, and everyone I work with has their opinions, too. Each of them has a background with unique experiences, ideas and information I have never been exposed to. No matter what my answer is to a question, it is extremely rare that my answer is the only right answer.
I think a part of this problem comes from the way we are taught in school. From kindergarten on, you are constantly challenged to find the one right answer to get an “A” on the test. This is not always how it works in the real world. Yes, for some math and engineering questions there is truly only one right answer, but for the clear majority of situations we encounter, there are probably 10 right ways to solve the problem.
As soon as I realized this, everything became easy.
I no longer had to defend, argue, persuade or attempt to prove that I was right because I knew I wasn’t. Sure, I have a lot of business experience and usually have some pretty good ideas, but at the end of the day, I’m just giving a thoughtful guess as to what I think the answer might be. I could be completely wrong. I have been in the past, and I will be in the future.
I offer my opinion, give some feedback, and suggest the very best ideas I can possibly think of, and then it is up to the other person if they want to accept my idea or reject it. It’s just an idea. If they hate it, that does not matter at all. They are perfectly welcome to think that my idea is terrible. But, here’s the most important point: This doesn’t mean I’m terrible or stupid or incompetent. It just means they didn’t like my idea. It’s just an idea…big deal.
Adopting this position allows me to be fearless because it is impossible to fail.
It also taught me another very important lesson: Don’t stop when you come up with the first “right” answer. The most innovative people I know push for a second, third or fourth right answer. Perhaps you will get lucky and the very first thing you come up with will be the best possible solution, but pushing for additional ideas and answers typically yields a much better solution. I can boil all of this down to one sentence. You are not right, especially on the first try!
“No matter what my answer is to a question, it is extremely rare that my answer is the only right answer.”
Don’t stop when you come up with the first “right” answer. The most innovative people I know push for a second, third or fourth right answer.
About the Writer:
John Spence has been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success. www.johnspence.com